“The Day Lady Died” — a poem by Frank O’Hara

photo by Carl Van Vechten


Billie Holiday, 1939


“The Day Lady Died”

It is 12:20 in New York a Friday
three days after Bastille Day, yes
it is 1959 and I go get a shoeshine
because I will get off the 4:19 in Easthampton
at 7:15 and then go straight to dinner
and I don’t know the people who will feed me

I walk up the muggy street beginning to sun
and have a hamburger and a malted and buy
an ugly NEW WOLRD WRITING to see what the poets
in Ghana are doing these days

I go on to the bank
and Miss Stillwagon (first name Linda I once heard)
doesn’t even look up my balance for once in her life
and in the GOLDEN GRIFFIN I get a little Verlaine
for Patsy with drawings by Bonnard although I do
think of Hesiod, trans. Richmond Lattimore or
Brendan Behan’s new play or Le Balcon or Les Negres
of Genet, but I don’t, I stick with Verlaine
after practically going to sleep with quandariness

and for Mike I just stroll into the PARK LANE
Liquor Store and ask for a bottle of Strega and
then I go back where I came from to 6th Avenue
and the tobacconist in the Ziegfeld Theatre and
aasually ask for a carton of Gauloises and a carton
of Pacayunes, and a NEW YORK POST with her face on it

and I am sweating a lot by now and thinking of
leaning on the john door in the FIVE SPOT
while she whispered a song along the keyboard
to Mal Waldron and everyone and I stopped breathing




Frank O’Hara (1926 – 1966) was regarded as a leading figure in the New York School – an informal group of artists, writers and musicians who drew inspiration from Jazz, surrealism, Abstract expressionism, action painting and contemporary avant-garde art movements.  (Wikipedia)


Frank O’Hara reads “Having a Coke With You”

The Billie Holiday Story

Read Billie Holiday’s New York Times obituary